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Lure of high society, working-class struggle and radical artistic innovation major themes of exhibition
Las vacaciones de Juanito [Juanito’s Vacation], 1972. Acrylic and metals including car door and aluminum pan; rubber, wood, and fabrics including caps, jersey, and handkerchiefs; broom straw, paper, jute, nails, and staples on wood, 80 13/16 x 117 1/2 in. (205.3 x 298.5 cm). Private Collection, Madrid © José Antonio Berni.
PHOENIX, AZ.- Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona opens at Phoenix Art Museum on June 28 and features over one hundred objects by groundbreaking artist Antonio Berni (1905-1981). The included works span a variety of media including paintings, assemblages, sculptures, works on paper, sketchbooks, and printing plates. Berni is little known in the United States, but widely recognized throughout Latin America as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. He used a wide array of bright colors and materials in his works to shed light on the realities of the Argentinean working class and their struggles to overcome economic challenges during the 1960s and ‘70s. A collaboration between the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Malba – Fundación Costantini in Buenos Aires, Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona is the first Berni exhibition organized by a U.S. museum in nearly fifty years and the first to focus on this iconic series.

Berni rose to prominence early in his career as a leading painter and promoter of “New Realism” in Latin America. In the mid-1950s, motivated by the social distress and poverty he witnessed amid his country’s rapid industrialization and parallel socio-political upheavals, he abandoned painting for a more visceral artistic medium: assemblage. In 1958, Berni began a series of works that chronicled his country's story through the tales of two fictional characters: Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel. Juanito was a young boy who left his home in the countryside to seek work in Buenos Aires and ended up living in poverty in the villas miserias (misery towns or shantytowns) on the city’s outskirts. Ramona, on the other hand, was a young working-class woman who was lured into a life of high-society prostitution by the promise of expensive gifts and luxurious decadence. Over the latter part of the 20th century, Berni’s invented characters became so well known that they attained cult status in Argentina as popular legends and folk heroes. Berni constructed narratives of Juanito and Ramona’s lives in his artwork using discards from everyday life. For Juanito he used waste materials like old wood, machine parts, and crushed tin cans found littering the slums of Buenos Aires, while for Ramona he used gaudy costume jewelry and chintzy, second-hand fabrics obtained at flea markets. This link between materials used and the fictional worlds depicted—the substance and the subject—could be characterized as “material realism.” This series developed into a social narrative on industrialization and poverty, underscoring disparities between the wealthy Argentinean aristocracy and the “Juanitos” of the slums, and exposing the political power networks at the core of high-society prostitution.

Phoenix Art Museum’s Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art Dr.
Vanessa Davidson said, “This landmark exhibition showcases Antonio Berni’s creative genius to great effect. The works are fascinating as they document Argentinean society’s undercurrents during the 1960s and 1970s and showcase artistic ingenuity and innovation in materials as well as method.” She added that, “Berni was a singular artist whose influence continues to be felt throughout Latin America to this day.”

“Following on the success of Order Chaos and the Space Between, the collection from The Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation, this exhibition will further help to open our audience’s eyes to the great diversity of art produced in Latin America,” said James K. Ballinger, The Sybil Harrington Director at Phoenix Art Museum. “Berni’s artistic radicalism can be compared in the United States to Robert Rauschenberg’s pioneering assemblages. Both artists took radical leaps of faith in fundamentally questioning exactly what art could be and what it could be made of,” Ballinger continued. He added that, “Berni was a pioneer and a visionary in Latin America, as this exhibition illustrates.”
 
Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Malba – Fundación Constantini in Buenos Aires. The exhibition is on view at Phoenix Art Museum from June 28 to September 21, 2014.





Today's News

June 29, 2014

MANIFESTA 10: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art opens in St. Petersburg

Sotheby's sale includes masterworks from eminent aristocratic and private collections

Gustav Klimt's 'Lady with a Muff', thought lost, unveiled at National Gallery in Prague

Native American masks sold in Paris at Auction house Eve despite protests from the US embassy

Masterpieces of painting from French national museums on view at Macao Museum of Art

The Private Impressionist: Edgar Degas drawings exhibition opens at The Frick Pittsburgh

Supermodels: Then and Now - Group exhibition opens at CWC Gallery in Berlin

Comprehensive overview of Angus Fairhurst's printed works opens at Paul Stolper

Exhibition of works by Lebbeus Woods opens at Tchoban Foundation: Museum for Architectural Drawing

Scots, English face off to mark 700 years since their legendary battle at Bannockburn

Major exhibition of 19th century American painting opens at Fondation de l'Hermitage

Fixed Variable: Group exhibition featuring works by eight artists opens at Hauser & Wirth in New York

Highlights from permanent collection display the range of printmaking techniques through the centuries

Faena Arts Center in Buenos Aires opens Richard Long's 'Mendoza Walking'

Hell on Earth: Contemporary Cambodian artist Leang Seckon opens exhibition Asia House, London

The Pump House Gallery gives voice to otherwise silent history of the Katherine Low Settlement

Lure of high society, working-class struggle and radical artistic innovation major themes of exhibition

Group exhibition of works by contemporary artists opens at Peres Projects

The first major museum exhibition to survey Corita Kent's entire career features over 200 prints

Museum of Biblical Art commissions six new works by contemporary artists

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